Query Stats: March 2017

March was the slowest month for my inbox so far, so caught up quick! I received a total of 330 queries for the month, including those I requested through #PitMad.

Total queries: 330
Number of responses sent so far: 321* I've responded to all regular queries and am calling March closed. I do still have #PitMad requests to respond to, but because I requested 50 pages alongside the query I'm treating these differently. 
Total requests: 7 (2 YA contemporary, 1 YA historical, 2 YA fantasy, 1 MG fantasy 1 MG contemporary)
#PitMad requests: 9
 


Genre Breakdowns so far....

TOTAL YA: 140
1 adventure
21 contemporary
7 dystopian
55 fantasy
7 historical
3 horror
3 magical realism
2 mystery
7 paranormal
4 retelling
2 romance
26 science fiction
2 thriller

TOTAL MG: 53
1 adventure
9 contemporary
23 fantasy
2 historical
3 mystery
4 paranormal
1 picture book
2 retelling
8 science fiction

TOTAL ADULT: 128
2 adventure
1 biography
40 contemporary
1 dystopian
21 fantasy
12 historical
2 magical realism
2 memoir
1 mystery
1 nonfiction
6 paranormal
1 poetry
2 retelling
6 romance
15 science fiction
13 thriller
2 stumpers. I have no idea what this is, and the writer didn't provide a genre, either. 

TOTAL OUTSIDE MY GENRE: 7

TOTAL QUERIES THAT DID NOT FOLLOW SUB GUIDELINES: 9

TOTAL QUERIES WITH INAPPROPRIATE WORD COUNTS FOR THEIR CATEGORY: 6. Including one project with a word count of 999k! Come on, guys. 

TOTAL QUERIES ABOUT NAZIS: 2. I'm going to start keeping track of these in the hopes that one day I never, ever get another one. Please do not send me projects that are sympathetic to Nazis. I have no interest in that take. 

TOTAL REPEAT QUERIES (same writer, same project): 2 :(

TOTAL PERSONAL REJECTIONS SENT: 3. Most of my rejections are form letters, but sometimes I add a personal note in there, when moved to do so. I cannot do this for everyone, so please do not respond to rejections asking for more details. I understand how frustrating it is to not know what to fix or what to improve. I know that silence or generic politenesses aren't something you can work with. Lean on critique partners and beta readers to get the critical feedback you need. And know that if I do send personalized feedback to you on a rejection, that it comes from a genuine place. 

THE ONES THAT GOT AWAY: I lost two projects this month. Oof. The first was a #PitMad request. The author emailed to withdraw her book from consideration after signing with another agent. I wish I'd been given the chance to read the full and put my hat in the ring, but sometimes when authors find the perfect agent, they don't need to explore other options. I was grateful that she wrote to let me know, and sent her my heartfelt congratulations. 

The second project I lost out on still hurts, because I chose to bow out. I got an incredible query mid-month but hadn't had a chance to look at it yet when the author emailed to let me know she had an offer of representation, and she set a week-long deadline to hear back from everyone else. I requested the full manuscript immediately and started reading. It was a gorgeous book. But...I couldn't finish it in time. It was a hectic week for me both personally and professionally and I just could not get the reading done. It wouldn't have been fair to either me or the author to offer representation without having finished the book. So the day before her deadline I sent an email that pained me to write. I told her how much I loved what I'd read so far, but that I wasn't going to be finished by her deadline, and so I was bowing out. It broke my heart to hit send and let go of that project. But the author was gracious and understanding in her response, and I have NO DOUBT that you'll all be hearing about her and this rich, compelling, truly special book in the future. 



TOTAL NEW CLIENTS SIGNED: 1! Technically this came from a February query, but going back and editing old posts to announce good news seems silly, so from now on I'll announce new clients in the month I sign them! Rachael Garza, with her self-described "weird little book about sisters and refugees and magic" is my latest client and I'm so, so excited to be working with her on this beautiful book. You can find Rachael on twitter: @Rachael846


I've now responded to all regular queries sent in March! This does not include requested manuscripts (some dating back to January. Eep) or #PitMad requests. If you sent a regular query in March and haven't heard from me, please resend!

#QueryTip: A Query is Not a Book Report

I tend to carve large chunks of time out of my day to read and respond to queries. This works better for me than just reading a handful at a time. I get into the Query Mindset and dive in. When reading lots of queries in a row, things tend to jump out at me. For example, Willa/Willow and Evie/Evangeline are popular protagonist names right now. I see those over and over again lately. Also a lot of books set in the 70s. Groovy! But beyond creative similarities in queries, reading in batches also highlights common mistakes. And the biggest mistake trend I'm seeing in my inbox right now are queries that read like book reports.

What do I mean by queries that read like book reports? Well, something along these lines:

Dear Agent,

NEXT BIG THING is an 80,000 word YA fantasy novel that explores the ideas of grief and loss and familial dysfunction set against a unique fantasy back drop of a magical world full of ominous powers and evil adversaries. Readers will identify with the whimsical protagonist, Chosen One, as she grapples with a deadly secret and must find the strength to embrace her true identity or be forever banished.

This sweeping story, told in alternating points of view by unreliable narrators, features a non-linear sequence of events that will astonish readers, and a resolution that will resonate with anyone who has ever been desolate and alone, only to realize that their true home can be found in their own hearts, and the hearts of those who love them. Beyond just issues of grief and identity, NEXT BIG THING features a toxic relationship and examines the harrowing effects of eating too much pie while feeling especially sad.  These issues are more relevant than ever, given current world events, and that’s what really inspired me to write this story. 

I hope Chosen One and NEXT BIG THING captivate you as much as they have captivated me. After all, haven’t you ever wondered how you would begin to piece your life back together if you woke up one day with nothing left but a blackberry pie? This story is one way to find out.

Best, 
Author

In case it isn't obvious, I completely fabricated that query, top to bottom. But it follows a formula that I call "the book report." It gives me a lot of information about how the book is written and what it aims to accomplish and how people are going to feel about it. All of which is useless at the query stage. And it gives me nothing whatsoever about the story. Which is the only thing I care about at this point. 

I tweeted these #querytips recently, and received some email about them. What was wrong with including information about larger themes? Why limit a query to story-only when we all know that books can deliver so much more? Isn't that just short-changing your book? Don't agents want all pertinent information about a book, including thematic content, so that they can make an informed decision? 

These are all good questions, and I've been thinking about them for days. The truth is, my opinion hasn't changed. A query is not a book report, and shouldn't read like one. 

A query letter has precious little real estate. You've only got a few hundred words to get me interested enough to make a request, and the story is the most important thing. The rest comes later, when I read the full manuscript. If a manuscript has larger thematic resonance, I'll discern that when I read. But people always read fiction for the story. Even allegories, or satires, or social commentaries must exist within the basic framework of a story.

It's also quite difficult to tell a good story (and convey it succinctly in a query letter). If a writer chooses to focus on the effects of the story at the expense of the story itself, I become wary about the writer's ability to tell a story at all. I'm much more likely to request a query with a good story and hope it has larger thematic resonance than to request a manuscript about which I know nothing more than that it explores the concept of forgiveness. 

Tell me WHO is doing WHAT WHEN and WHY. Tell me WHO is trying to stop them and HOW. That's what you need to convey in your query letter. The protagonist, the antagonist, the goals, and the stakes. You've got a few hundred words to make me care, and I don't care about your personal take on universal themes. Not yet. The first thing I care about is whether or not you can whisk me away. Meaning and metaphor are always secondary. Story is king. I need to know you can deliver the goods, and the query letter is your one shot to prove yourself. 

Query Stats: February 2017

In February, a short month, I saw a slow down in my query inbox. I received 402 queries for the month. Here's hoping you guys flood me in March!

The tweaks to my submission guidelines obviously helped, because so far there's been a much better adherence to them this month than last (reminder: I won't open attachments in a query). 

Total queries: 402.
Number of responses sent so far: All
Total requests: 8 (all YA: 4 science fiction, 4 fantasy)

Genre Breakdowns
TOTAL YA: 183
2 adventure
31 contemporary
3 dystopian
65 fantasy
7 historical
5 historical fantasy
1 horror
1 magical realism
1 mystery
6 paranormal
3 retelling
1 romance
51 science fiction
1 suspense
4 thriller

TOTAL MG: 80
4 adventure
12 contemporary
35 fantasy
1 graphic novel
7 historical
6 magical realism
2 mystery
1 non-fiction
1 retelling
11 science fiction

TOTAL ADULT FICTION: 139
1 adventure

38 contemporary
17 fantasy
13 historical
1 magical realism
3 mystery
4 non-fiction
5 paranormal
3 retelling
6 romance
32 science fiction
3 suspense
10 thriller
3 that defy description. I'm not kidding. No genre was given, and all my years in the publishing industry could not help me decipher what these books were supposed to be.

TOTAL OUTSIDE MY GENRES: 7
Non-fiction, graphic novels, short stories, picture books, etc. 

TOTAL QUERIES THAT DID NOT FOLLOW SUBMISSION GUIDELINES: 14

TOTAL REPEAT QUERIES (SAME PROJECT, SAME AUTHOR): 3. Don't do this, guys. A pass is a pass. Don't query the same project again next month.

TOTAL CLIENTS SIGNED: 0

I'm officially caught up on queries from February! If you sent a query anytime prior to March 1st and have not yet received a response, please resend. This pertains to queries only. I'm still reading requested materials dating make to January. Which...is a lot of reading, so excuse me while I get back to it!

How Will I Know?

I've been reading queries and submissions for years, and yet when I first started accepting queries as an agent a couple of weeks ago I felt nervous. How will I know if a manuscript is good enough to request? 

Turns out I shouldn't have worried. When a manuscript is good enough to request, I just know. Which probably isn't all that helpful for writers, because that just comes down to the ineffable "it factor" or matter of taste. 

I'm going to do some straight talking right now, which is: most writers have terrible query letters. Not for nothing are there so many resources about how to craft a good query (I'll link to some below). That's because writing a query is hard and requires a totally different skill set than writing a novel. 

It would make my life easier if I got nothing but top-quality query letters. And if you're reading this post you should definitely take the time to do some research and make your query as good as it can possibly be. But given that queries are an art form that so many struggle to perfect, my submission guidelines also request the first chapter of your manuscript pasted in the body of your email. 

I do make it a point to read the entire sample, but my decision is made at the end of the first paragraph. I know that must sound outrageous. How can I judge an entire manuscript on a handful of sentences? Well, you'd be surprised. That opening paragraph will likely introduce me to the voice and the protagonist at the very least, and those things alone are enough to make or break my desire to read more. With every manuscript I've requested so far, I knew I was going to make that request at the end of the first few sentences. 

This also means that I know immediately if I'm going to send a rejection. You only have to lose me once, and then I'm gone. 

There are, occasionally, queries that don't fall into either category. I read these queries, I read the sample chapter all the way to the end. And I still don't know what to do. Those queries get starred and I open them back up every couple of days and try to determine what to do. Usually these queries have something but not everything. Maybe the writing is incredible, but the premise is meh. Or maybe the premise is amazing but the writing...isn't well-executed. Or maybe it's solid all around and I know it, but I'm just not as excited about it as I think I should be. Something is preventing me from pulling the trigger, so the query languishes in my inbox while I try to identify the problem and whether or not I can solve it or even if I want to. Publishing wisdom says "If it's a maybe, it's a no." That's a hard pill to swallow, for writers and for me, too. But I do find that most queries move from limbos to rejections eventually. 

I appreciate the weight of sitting on this side of the desk. Every query I receive represents someone's time and effort and labor of love. I know that I make decisions in a matter of moments that either reward or refute the painstaking work authors have put in for months, or even years.  This is why you cannot, cannot, cannot allow rejections to discourage you. Keep writing. Keep querying. And someday an agent is going to open up your query and just know...



Query Resources
Pub(lishing) Crawl has lots of posts about the art of writing a successful query letter, including the podcast episodes where my co-host JJ and I critique queries live.

LIterary Agents Bridget Smith and Jennifer Udden co-host the podcast Shipping and Handling, and do a live query critique in one episode and often drop hints about querying in general throughout their archives. 

Search the Twitter hashtag #querytip for tons of advice from agents and industry professionals.

Of course, Query Shark is the expert. Be ready for the brutal, unvarnished truth. It will make your queries better. 
 

Query Stats: January 2017

I became an agent this year and opened to queries on January 13th. I was expecting queries to roll in slowly and instead what I got was an avalanche. In two and a half weeks I received a total of 445* queries! I'm overwhelmed in the best possible way.

Here's the final breakdown!

Total queries: 445
Number of responses sent so far: All
Total requests: 15 (4 partial, 11 full) 

Genre Breakdowns
TOTAL YA: 231
68 contemporary
67 fantasy
12 historical
6 horror
7 paranormal
4 magical realism
58 science-fiction
8 thriller
1 steampunk

TOTAL MG: 72
27 contemporary
4 paranormal
18 fantasy
4 historical
3 mystery
16 science-fiction

TOTAL ADULT FICTION: 129
3 New Adult
5 mystery
6 thriller
13 historical
11 fantasy
6 romance
67 contemporary
18 science-fiction

TOTAL OUTSIDE MY GENRES: 13
Non-fiction, picture books, etc. 

TOTAL QUERIES THAT DID NOT FOLLOW SUBMISSION GUIDELINES: 39

TOTAL CLIENTS SIGNED: 2!

I am so thrilled to be working with Kayti Nika Raet on her YA fantasy. Her book absolutely consumed me (I snuck out of my daughter's 3rd birthday party to hide in the bathroom and read it because I could not put it down) and I'm pumped for the road ahead!

I am also beyond excited to be workings with Adrienne Proctor in her YA fantasy, which has the most compelling voice I've read in a long, long time. I can't wait to share this book with the world!



*My original post stated I received 476 queries. The final number is lower, as I realized that some were duplicate queries sent twice, and some weren't queries at all but either follow ups to requests that I sent, or other, unrelated emails (that were sent straight to the trash). The final official tally is 443 queries received and answered for the month of January!


NOTE: many requested MSs are still outstanding. I'm caught up on answering queries through January, but still have a large reading pile to get through!